Friday, January 15, 2010

Hermida, Magadan getting to know each other

Newly acquired Red Sox outfielder Jeremy Hermida had his first session with hitting coach Dave Magadan on Thursday. It was far too early for Magadan to start offering any tips. Instead, it was a pretty basic getting-to-know-you session to kick off what the Red Sox have to hope will be a productive relationship.

"I'm sure he's seen some film and watched me swing," Hermida said on Thursday night before the Boston baseball writers' dinner. "I've talked to him on the phone, but getting a chance to shake his hand and meet him face-to-face is always good. We did that today -- and talked hitting, talking about things I think about, things I go through, and the process that goes on with my swing so he can learn my swing inside and out."

Magadan now will be charged with turning Hermida back into the hitter so many believed he would be.

The former first-round draft pick never lived up to his potential with the Marlins, hitting 18 home runs with an OPS of .870 three seasons ago but seeing a dramatic downturn in his numbers after that. His slugging percentage in 2009 (.392) was more than 100 points lower than his slugging percentage in 2007 (.501).

He's still young enough -- he won't turn 26 until the end of the month -- that the Red Sox are willing to invest in him as a fourth outfielder with tremendous upside. To tap into that upside, though, he and Magadan have to figure out what's been going wrong.

One session wasn't enough to do that, certainly.

"We haven't gotten there yet," Hermida said. "That'll probably be a little bit in spring training. But I'm all for it. If you ever stop learning this game, you've got a big problem. No matter where you're at, going into spring training, every year, everybody's got something to learn."

One thing the Red Sox do is preach patience at the plate, making pitchers work, grinding out at-bats. In talking about Jacoby Ellsbury last season, Magadan said he doesn't want his hitters swinging at the first pitch unless they have a history of doing damage on the first pitch. Kevin Youkilis has a green light to swing at the first pitch because he typically does so much damage. Mike Lowell, too, is a terrific first-pitch hitter. Ellsbury, on the other hand, needed to be more patient because he wasn't doing enough damage on the first pitch.

Hermida came through the minor leagues as a patient hitter. In a full season at Double-A as a 21-year-old, he accumulated more walks (111) than strikeouts (89), a remarkable feat for a hitter so young. He routinely averages more than 4.0 pitches per plate appearance and certainly fits the grind-it-out identity of the Red Sox lineup.

"I've been a guy that's walked a good amount in my career," he said. "I've gotten away from that at certain times, trying to learn to be an aggressive hitter. Sometimes I've been actually too patient, and that's gotten me in trouble a little bit. But coming up through the minor leagues and my first couple of years, I've been a guy that's been a pretty good on-base percentage guy. I know that's what they preach around here, and I think that's part of the reason why, hopefully, I'm going to fit in around here."

But Hermida actually is a terrific first-pitch hitter, too. He has a career OPS of 1.051 when swinging at the first pitch, more than 100 points higher than the major-league average. His career OPS within the first three pitches of an at-bat (.842) is significantly higher than his career OPS beyond the third pitch of an at-bat (.708).

(One would expect any hitter to have more success early in the count than later on the count. The above discrepancy, though, is even more pronounced than that of Youkilis -- .924 early in the count, .843 late in the count.)

Hermida is a patient hitter who, like most, does most of his damage early in the count. That might explain why his swinging percentages have swung so wildly back and forth since his first full season:

Out-of-zone swing percentage
2006: 19 percent
2007: 22.2 percent
2008: 27.8 percent
2009: 23.9 percent

Zone swing percentage
2006: 64.1 percent
2007: 64.2 percent
2008: 59.6 percent
2009: 61.7 percent

Between 2007 and 2008, Hermida swung at more pitches out of the strike zone and fewer pitches in the strike zone. It shouldn't be surprising his production nose-dived the way it did.

Finding a happy medium is an ongoing process.

"I don't know if there's necessarily a rule of thumb to follow," he said. "If there was, I think everybody would do it. It's a tough thing, and Mags, he's got some guys on this team like Youk and (Dustin) Pedroia that do it pretty well, so, hopefully, I can pick a little bit off them and use it for myself."

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